One week in Laurels, the Sunday School class for 16 to 17-year-old Mormon girls, my teacher passed out pairs of knitted white baby booties and Xeroxed excerpts from a 1950s women’s magazine. While the boys down the hall talked football, college, and career goals, we read about what sort of wives we would become.
After you marry, you will tie ribbons in your children’s hair (just like presents, I thought, delivered straight from the uterus).
You will scrub their faces, and you will put on your best dress, and you will tidy the house so that when your husband comes home each day, he will see everything shining and clean and the way god intended for men to see the world—cleansed of blood and afterbirth and female rage.
Well fuck that, I thought. I have better things to do than sink my creative energies into inventing fictions for one man. Fuck that.
Polish the false surfaces, or end up alone.
Well fuck that, too, I thought. Who would be dumb enough to believe this shit? And if men really are that dumb, they can have it. Let them love the pretense. Let them leave me alone, see if I care–
But my classmates did believe. Say “Fuck it” and refuse to bake the apple pies that the young men asked us to bake, hours in the kitchen when you could have been filling out college applications, and you end up like M.C. No dates. No boyfriend. Which means, no husband. And so they followed instructions every Wednesday night as the women taught us to shake out pillow shams, sew buttons, quilt, bake casseroles, host potlucks. Everything we did was a rehearsal for when we had a husband and when that husband filled our hungry bellies with children.
Without that, they believed they were only half of what God meant them to be. So they spent hundreds on their hair and thousands on their clothes and trimmed and buffed and polished their nails, manicures, pedicures, salon appointments, shopping sprees so that by the age of 20, they sidled into the Singles Ward every Sunday in pastel cocktail dresses and heels, lined up in the pews like rows of Easter eggs, all blonde and polished to a high gloss, girls alternating with handbags—girl-handbag-girl-handbag—not so different from mainstream American ideals of femininity, except these women believed their immortal souls depended on it.
Sure, god loved them. But god loved them more if they were married, and god loved them even more if they had children. And even more if they raised those children in the Kingdom of God.
In the eternities to come, they could only enter into the highest tier of heaven if a man chose them. We were objects waiting to be plucked from the obscurity of our single, childless adulthood. Even I waited to be chosen, three pews down from the Easter Egg pew. Even in my ankle-length black dress and heavy eyeliner and Victorian hairdo.
I was only chosen once, when I was 16 years old at a church dance. They arranged the girls in chairs, the better to wait and to see what eternity held in store for us—would we be chosen? After 20 minutes, a boy did pick me, but out of kindness. Because he could see no one else was going to pick me.
And so I danced with him, prim and polite, our sticky teenage palms pressed together. And then, the song ended.
I left the gymnasium, and the door thudded behind me. I strode down the church hallways to an empty classroom, dark and silent, where no one would find me and I could sit alone. I hated that I had wanted to be chosen, that I had waited to be chosen, that I had felt hurt not to be chosen and elated when a boy did choose me—because they had made me believe that this was my worth, this was all I could ever hope to be: chosen or not chosen by a man. This was my one hope for value, and I hated them for leading me to believe this.
I would rather disappear, reduced to a ghost with the lights out, than enter into that reality. In their reality, I was even less than a ghost. Property to be claimed, a fate determined by others.